A massive challenge facing the planet is climate change. Caused by a culmination of natural and superficial activities that harm the atmosphere and environment, climate change has led to a dramatic increase in global temperatures and a shift in weather patterns on Earth. Since the industrial era, distinguished by the height of authentic innovation, development and coal and gas-based manufacturing in our exploration for continued and technological efficiency, we have become the main propagators of this phenomenon. Our relationship with the environment has been unsustainable throughout our pursuits, bearing long-term adverse consequences for the future of our planet. We are familiar with how climate change can influence involuntary immigration patterns, cause extreme weather events, and lead to the extinction of organisms and biodiversity. The impacts of climate change have sparked one of the most significant crises in health within the century. Have we ever considered the continued impact that it has on our health and how we manage it?
A fevered planet: The Contribution of Climate to Disease Risk
There has been an established correlation between health issues and climate change. It impacts our health both indirectly and directly. Imagine an instance where you’re setting up the dominos in a ‘line of play’ formation. When you knock one down, the rest follow seemingly without any provocation. When we position ourselves at the end of the tumbling row of dominos, we can visualise how climate change indirectly affects our health. Placing this example in a more literal context, we can see that amongst other economic and social pressures, a change in weather (our set of dominos) and increased temperatures impact the disease risk and to a credible extent, our mortality rate. Sampling the rise in global temperatures, we can see that this change can grow pesticide resilience in mosquitos, consequently leading to disease outbreaks such as Malaria, Chikungunya, Dengue fever, Zika and Yellow fever. Directly, we can see climate change can affect our health through heat-related ailments from extremely high temperatures or lung cancer due to long-term air pollution.
Citing the UNHDR (1948), everyone has the right to access decent health care and services. Even so, it is disturbing that even with the rising disease risk exacerbated by climate change, only 30% of the planet has access to universal health coverage and essential health care. When we consider the growing risk of diseases that are tied in part to climate change, it can be a harsh reality to come to terms with. Following the argument of the principle of proximity, the actors closest to the effects of climate change will disproportionately experience the negative health effects that arise- a stark contrast to their remote neighbors. Because of this reality, there will be an imbalance in the level of motivation expressed in addressing the root causes of climate-related outbreaks and health issues. Proximity to climate change effects makes it difficult to proceed with efforts to collaborate for solutions to reduce the healthcare burden placed on the various healthcare systems due to climate-based ailments and extreme weather conditions. However, as climate-related consequences trickle down into other states, transferring the burden of responsibility across arbitrary borders, incentives found in the very fact of cohabitation on a single planet manifest.
This rise in incentives and the increase in climate-related disasters has prompted the emergence of new methodologies employed on a multilateral, bilateral, and unilateral level and spans across the various levels of actors that exist in the international community. For instance, some healthcare facilities can work to lower the costs of operations by managing their resources, making sustainability improvements, improving supply chain resilience, and essentially allowing them to provide continued healthcare services to their communities, and address the dynamic health needs during extreme climate events or as a result of climate-induced illnesses without having to compromise on the quality of the services provided. On a grander level, the World Bank and ADB are working towards promoting financial inclusion through grants, donations, partnerships and others, which boosts a household’s ability to gain access to critical healthcare infrastructure and minimize disparities in their accessibility.
Maintaining flexibility to address increasing climate change-oriented health impacts is critical to addressing sustainability gaps in our healthcare service systems. Creating healthcare infrastructures that are climate sensitive and climate adaptive and affordable health insurance products can help target these soft spots, boost the recovery of marginalized groups suffering from climate-related health challenges, and improve access and the state of population health protections against the dynamic phenomena- Climate Change.
Mind Over Melt-down? Mental Health in a Volatile Climate
When conversing with health and climate, there’s a need to consider its cognitive implications on the human population. Just as with every scenario that demands a lot of emotional currency, there is a relationship between distressing environmental events and negative (at times long-lasting) emotions. Cognitive behavioural specialists have noted that a rise in temperatures contributes to increased rates of aggression, suicidal ideations, and criminal tendencies over time. Extreme disasters like flooding and wildfires expose people to situations where life is threatened and increase the risk of developing PTSD. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is caused by exposure to a high-stress situation where a person feels that their life is in danger and manifests itself through symptoms such as debilitating fear, flashbacks, personality change, and avoidance- all impairing the quality of a person’s life. An example of this is when over half of the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 developed PTSD. Though not every victim of an extreme weather event will suffer from a mental illness, there is a considerable rise in the issues associated with mental health following dramatic weather events.
Designing health infrastructure that is responsive to mental health needs following a disaster is crucial for building resilient infrastructure and rebuilding more robust communities. Following the 2010 flood in Haiti and the recent earthquake in Morocco, it is clear that there is an urgent need for quality public infrastructure that can manage and respond to the cognitive aftermath of major climate stressors and shocks. Given its potential to empower communities to rebuild and address the emotional costs of climate-related mental stresses, governments need to include mental health when conceiving their respective Health National Adaptation Plans.
Sharma, P. (2022, May 2). States told to ensure hospitals have facilities to tackle heatwave: Mandaviya | Mint. Mint. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/states-told-to-ensure-hospitals-have-facilities-to-tackle-heatwave-mandaviya-11651518837013.html
Hurricane Sandy costs New York $3.1B in healthcare damages. (2012, November 29). Fierce Healthcare. https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/healthcare/hurricane-sandy-costs-new-york-3-1b-healthcare-damages
Walinski, A., Sander, J., Gerlinger, G., Clemens, V., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., & Heinz, A. (2023). The Effects of Climate Change on Mental Health. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 120(8), 117–124. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.m2022.0403